From “Down but not defeated: Four views from the margins.” NEW YORKER. 16 April 2012.
By Hilton Als.
Too few women playwrights deal directly with politics in their work. Some may have bought into the cliché that women are better at writing character than they are at writing plot—and what is politics if not plot-driven? The thirty-year-old black playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury refutes this notion, and so much else, in her grand play “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915” (directed by Eric Ting, at the Victory Gardens, in Chicago). The show provides a thrilling opportunity to see both a serious new talent developing her voice and what an inspiring director can do to encourage it. The piece is about theatre, and how to “play” politics onstage—the politics, in this case, being the history of conquest and colonization in Namibia.
Of the six cast member, all of whom are emotionally open (Bernard Balbot, in particular, is an actor of frightening, escalating intensity), five “become” white racists, regardless of their actual skin color, while Kamal Angelo Bolden, as Black Man, can only be black. When, in a Jean Genet-like move, the cast tries to lynch him, the game ends and he walks offstage, inconsolable. The object of racism is often inconsolable, and this is one true moment among many in the piece. Ting is a magician who doesn’t have to pull anything out of a hat: it’s all there in the script. What he’s terrific at is making stage pictures that not only frame Drury’s big thoughts and bigger imagination but ground them so that the actors can take off.